A few months back, I wrote about how Nvidia’s SHIELD tablet gave us a look into Nvidia’s mobile gaming strategy. I also talked a bit about its feature set of the initial SHIELD tablet with WiFi and 16GB of storage. Nvidia today launched an LTE-based SHIELD tablet with 32GB of storage, priced at $399, $299 with an AT&T contract, and I wanted to share some thoughts on it as I used it for a week. Let me provide some background first.
The tablet market is huge but maturing as evidenced by declining growth rates, but more interestingly, differentiation through a focus on use cases. HP, Dell, and Lenovo have tablet lines best known for horizontal and vertical enterprise use cases. There are kid’s tablets like Kurio and Eddy. There are tablets used by restaurants like Chili’s, by police forces and the military using Dell ruggeds, etc. Nvidia’s SHIELD is unique in that it’s all about gaming, but also worked well for me as an everyday tablet.
Now with 32GB storage
So what’s the big deal about 16 more GB? In gaming, it means a whole lot. Games like first-person shooters (FPS) can be 2GB a piece, so it’s the difference between having the game on the tablet or not. FPS aren’t the only large games out there. FIFA 15 Ultimate Team comes in at 1.2GB. While we sometimes like to live in the dream-world that most games can just be moved to an SD card, that’s not the reality. Most of the big time games don’t allow you to do this, so having the extra built-in storage helps. I found it easy to fill up 25GB of the tablet with my preferred FPS, videos and music and would have had issues, obviously, with a 16GB unit.
Now With LTE
Nvidia’s new SHIELD now comes with LTE on AT&T. This is technically the first device Nvidia has ever certified on AT&T, and demonstrates just how far Nvidia has come with their Icera modems. When I did random speed tests using Speedtest versus my Apple iPhone 6 Plus, I got the same numbers, which is a positive. The integrated modem supports 2.5G (EDGE), 3.5G (HSPA+) MHz: 1700, 1900, 2100, 850, 900, 4G (LTE) Bands: 1, 17, 2, 20, 3, 4, 5, 7. This is important to know if you want to roam outside the U.S.
It’s funny, I use tablets and 2-in-1s very differently if they have LTE. I take them more places and use them a lot more often. I took the SHIELD tablet everywhere, too, and tended to use it more and bring it everywhere. Let’s get to the games.
PC Gaming with Gamestream
If you have a PC with GeForce Experience software, a late model Nvidia GeForce graphics card, you can probably play your PC games on your SHIELD. I connected my SHIELD tablet to my HDTV and played Crysis, Batman Arkham, and Skyrim with the optional SHIELD controller, a WiFi-direct console-grade game controller. I used an all wireless configuration between the SHIELD tablet, my router, and my GeForce-based PC which means I got 720P resolution and a few lags here or there, but not enough to distract from gameplay. If you do a lot of this, I would recommend a hard-line between all devices for 1080P resolution and a more reliable connection. It truly is amazing that you can play PC games on your tablet.
PC Gaming with Nvidia Grid Service (Beta)
Nvidia’s Grid technology enables consumers to stream and play PC games from a cloud server in San Jose in a technologically-similar way games are streamed from the home PC using Gamestream. Grid is still in Beta, but it performed well for me with minor hiccups. I connected the tablet via HDMI to my TV and controlled the game with the SHIELD controller. I played Red Faction:Armageddon, Saints Row: The Third, Grid, Alan Wake American Nightmare, Borderlands 2 and Dead Island. The only game where I noticed some pixelation was in Alan Wake, but all the others were very console-like with limited latency. I’ll be interested to see how Nvidia adds more games to the current 18 themselves or through partners with the studios and adds more local servers. The servers I used were in San Jose and I’m sure having servers in Austin would reduce a few ms in latency. All in all, this capability gets better each time I use it.
Android gaming has come a long way and I believe it will keep improving to the point where you will see major console titles brought to the platform. Mobile gaming hardware historically has doubled in performance every 2 years compared to consoles that get refreshed every 5 years at best. There are advantages in that.
Nvidia got a head start out on this by bringing Half-Life 2 for Android along with Valve. While HL2 was brought out a decade ago, HL2 on SHIELD had great gameplay, particularly when connected my HDTV and using the SHIELD controller. It really shows the potential for the future of Android gaming.
Trine 2, included with the SHIELD, was one of the best looking Android games I’ve seen. Sure, I’ve played mobile games on iOS and Android devices, but there was something very special playing with the SHIELD tablet and the SHIELD controller.
SHIELD as digital media adapter
The SHIELD tablet can act as a gaming console, so why not a digital media adapter connected to my HDTV for videos, music, and photos? By using the “SHIELD Hub” I got access to “Play Movies & TV”, “Play Music” and “Gallery” for photos. I sat on my couch controlling all of my media using the SHIELD controller, just like I do on my Xbox. For those who are looking for the convenience of having only one device or for those on a budget, this is a great usage model for the SHIELD tablet and controller.
As I said in my first column on the SHIELD tablet, although no one had performed detailed benchmarks, I thought it would perform well on independent game benchmarks. Nvidia proved me right. While Anandtech proved out it’s really good CPU performance, the SHIELD does really well on GPU performance, which matters most in gaming. In Anandtech’s GPU benchmarks, the SHIELD tablet won every benchmark except one, a testament to its performance. While performance isn’t the only metric for experience, in gaming, particularly all of the off-screen gaming I was doing, it matters a lot.
Did I mention $399?
You can get Nvidia SHIELD with PC game streaming, Android gaming, Console Mode, 32GB and AT&T certified LTE for $399. Without contract. That’s nuts…. in a good way. While the iPad Mini main usage target isn’t gaming, but rather many horizontal use cases, it still helps to provide a price comparison: a 32GB/LTE configuration costs $629. To be fair, the mini is a lot thinner and has a higher res display, but it doesn’t benchmark anywhere nearly as good as the SHIELD tablet, nor does it have PC game streaming or console mode.
Nvidia has done an exceptional job with the SHIELD tablet. Based on my experiences, if you consider yourself a gamer, you must consider this tablet. SHIELD has good but not great battery life, but for a gamer, they’ve always been prepared to make that trade-off. Just look at gaming notebooks. I think Nvidia nailed the usage model for gamers, so the degree of sales success will be more wrapped in sales, marketing, and distribution. Gaming marketing is something Nvidia excels at, but given they are, in a sense, competing with the iPad and the Galaxy lines, they will need to go broader to fulfill their lofty expectations.